(Un)expected Families at the MFA

(Un)expected Families at the MFA

 

Written by Talja Ketchum

Despite being tucked into two small rooms near the gift shop, the new exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), called “(Un)expected Families,” was bustling with students, children, couples, and families. The exhibit is home to more than 80 photographs collected from the museum’s existing archives. The showing does not display the works of one individual artist, rather it shows the photographic works from a vast range of different American photographers. While the styles and techniques of each photographer differs, one thing remains consistent: the subject. The subject in the broadest sense is that of the family. The exhibition seeks to understand how photographers from all walks of life capture the power and intimacy of family through an individual photograph.

The exhibit displays photographs from the likes of iconic artists such as Andy Warhol and Dorothea Lange in conjunction with unknown photographers of 19th century portraits. Subjects of the photographs consist of LGBTQA+ families, Facebook friends, members of religious convents, married couples, soldiers in the Iraq war, immigrants, and biker gangs, andaq photographs carry their own themes of race, gender, sexuality, identity, class, spirituality, and love. A walk around the room will present everything from highly composed self portraits to family albums filled with casual polaroids.

Visually, the photographs range from tiny monochromatic images to large scale collages filled with bright colors. This diversity of different time periods, styles, photographers, stories, and subjects illustrate the main purpose of the exhibit — to redefine, or rather undefine, any understanding the viewer has of families by expanding the representation of the American family.

“It was a lot of self-reflection,” said first-year Northeastern student Kasey Arko, an attendee of the exhibition. “The emotional vulnerability of each photograph connected me to my own experiences with family.”

This personal reflection is best represented through the interactive wall placed in the center of the exhibit’s room, which invites viewers to imagine or think about a photograph of their own family and share a drawing or a description on the pads of paper provided. The slips of paper are then hung on the wall by the museum staff. “My father is just barely cropped. My mother is grinning with none of her teeth. There is a firetruck in the background,” read one of the captions, accompanying a stick-figure drawing of a five-person family. This aspect of the exhibit exemplifies the emotional reaction many viewers have in response to this diverse series of photographs and allows viewers the opportunity to partake in the conversation that the exhibition presents.

Located just steps away from the Northeastern campus, “(Un)expected Families” is a must see exhibit for everyone. Its efforts to understand the families effect on an artist’s work allow for a collection of visually stunning and emotionally stimulating artwork that will captivate any viewer. Its representation of American families allows viewers the chance to confront their own pre-existing understanding of what family is and expand on that understanding. The exhibit is on display until June 17.

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